Ben Wheeler was an irrepressible boy who dreamed of being an architect, a paleontologist and a lighthouse keeper all at once. In public settings like school, church, or the grocery store, people always knew when Ben was around. There was nothing on his dial between one and eleven; nothing moved quickly enough for him and the joy he showed in his headlong rush through life was contagious. Quick to smile, quick to laugh, eyes sparkling always with his love of everything (and a good deal of mischief) he was an energetic spirit who filled lives with a delightful noise.
At Ben’s memorial service the church was filled with images and models of Ben’s beloved lighthouses. Now Ben Wheeler is a lighthouse for all of us.
The first significant event sponsored by Ben’s Lighthouse was The Lighthouse Festival on the 6-month anniversary of the December tragedy. The Festival Committee hoped to create an icon for the entrance that would honor all of those lost while promoting a spirit of joy throughout the community.
Duane Langenwalter, a friend of many of the initial committee members, was recruited because of his experience with theatrical set designs. Over the course of three months, dozens of volunteers spent hundreds of hours building, sanding, painting and assembling the custom 20-foot interactive lighthouse that Duane conceived.
Though many came to refer to this structure as “Ben’s Lighthouse”, we thought of it as belonging to the entire community.
The lighthouse was built with six sides to represent the six educators who perished at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty individually-painted windows represent the individual light of each of the children we lost.
The green and white are the colors of Sandy Hook School. Since December 2012, these colors have come to symbolize Newtown to the world as a strong, caring community that will lead the way in promoting non-violence and children’s well-being.
The lower sections of the lighthouse were surfaced with whiteboard and blackboard, an invitation to each child of the community to leave his or her own mark upon it.
While the lighthouse is no longer used at events, the care, dedication and aspiration so apparent in its design, construction and use continues throughout the organization today as we work to provide children of all ages the opportunity to Be the Light and Lead the Way.